Cuenca, Riobamba, Baños

It has not even been a week and yet it seems like so much more time has passed since we left Rumi Wilco on Monday. We left early Monday morning for Loja and then caught another bus to Cuenca. In Cuenca we spent the first hour wandering around with our heavy packs trying to find a hostel. We had written down information for three hostels at Rumi Wilco, but apparently all of them have since gone out of business. After we settled into Hostel Siberia, we spent the rest of the afternoon wandering around the city, grabbing some food, and discovering the best ice cream shop! I had the Copa Hordo which consisted of three scoops of ice cream with three little half sugar cones, and a glass dish full of chocolate, creme and banana pieces, all for a whopping $2.60. That night we found a hookah bar where we got a pipe and two 1.5 liter beers for $7 total. I know nothing about hookah bars, but Aaron informed me that you can pay around $25 for two coals at a US hookah bar. The next day we went to the Banco Centro Museo and looked at art pieces from the 1500´s and then histories of many of the different indigenous peoples living around Ecuador. At the end we walked around this large Incan ruins that were built up on the edge of a hill aligned with a specific constellation. Below the ruins the museum has created a lovely garden area with all the various crops that are produced in Ecuador. We also wondered around to look at several churches and then returned to the ice cream shop from the previous night. This time I had a half liter of ice cream, again for a mere $2.60. This is actually quite expensive when taking into account that I can purchase an entire lunch of soup, meal and juice for $1.50 – $2.50. But ice cream is a luxury I will always splurge on. Cuenca is a really nice city. The atmosphere is great.

We left that evening for Riobamba, however. In Riobamba we ended up at a slightly dodgy hostel. No toilet paper, one toilet did not even have a toilet seat, no shower curtains, and a musty smell. But I suppose we were only paying $4 a night. We went out for supper that night and despite not being very hungry, I ended up with this huge calzone. It was at least tasty, but I did not need to eat nearly as much the next day. The next morning we found out that there is not really anything to do in Riobamba. It is not even that nice looking of a city. It is mostly a large, busy city where all the hiking areas around it are too far to walk to or take a taxi. We were on a bus to Baños later that morning.

Baños, however, is fantastic. It is extremely touristy, but for good reason. We have been staying at the nicest place, Residencial Timara. The older man who run it is extremely friendly and everything is so clean and nice. There is a full kitchen and warm showers. And the ladies who come in to do the cleaning and washing are incredibly amiable. Baños is situated down at the base of several mountains. It is also the home of Volcan Tunguarahua which is usually an extremely active volcano with frequent eruptions and ground shaking tremors. Of course this means that it was been silent the last few days. Well the first afternoon we trekked up the mountain side to get some great views of Baños and the surrounding lands. Then we hiked out to this lookout Bellavista which overlooks Baños. This was a several hour hike. Before we had left, we booked a night tour up to see the volcano. Of course this was before we found out it was not active. Though that night when we were riding a Chiva (an open air tour bus that is brightly painted with flashing lights and blaring music) to the top, it turned out that they did not even take us where we thought. We ended right back up at Bellavista! The view is really quite better in daytime and sort of a silly venture to have paid for. At least our tour outfit brought this warm cinnamon drink for us and some random guy who rode up with us made a fire and put on a show. I hope to actually make it to El Refugio which is still some distance below the crater but looks like Julie Andrews should suddenly stroll past singing.

Yesterday, however, has been hands down the best day yet. We rented mountain bikes and took off on the road towards Puyo to undertake what is called the waterfall way. In 24 km (14 miles) we saw about 6 or 7 waterfalls. Despite the day starting off rainy, it turned out to be warm and sunny. Though, for a good 30 minutes we rode with rain pelting into our face as well as the steady stream picked up from both bike tires. There were so many great waterfalls and at most there were activities such as a canopy tour or cable basket. At Manto de la Novia (a twin falls) we took a cable basket over the deep valley right up to and over the falls. When we got to the other side, we were able to hike around the top side of the falls and go onto a lookout directly over the edge. Gorgeous. Then we took the cable back and hiked to the bottom of the river basin and crossed a suspension bridge to look around at the bottom of the falls. Then we rode on. The road is directly along the valley overlooking this river where all the falls flow into. Then at Pailon del Diablo we hiked down to the largest of the falls. The whole way there you can hear the rush of water but when you finally get there it is breathtaking. The sheer magnitude of the water surging down into the valley is unbelievable. The walkway is literally built up to the edge of the water where the force of up spray can actually push you backwards. We of course were soaked after this, but luckily we had already eaten lunch. This waterfall is so heavily visited that the town Rio Verde literally built up around it. I took videos at this falls it was so magnificent. It even made the last falls, Rocío de Machay, seem to pale in comparison. Machay is this really long falls where the mist of up spray causes there to be rainbows everywhere. And the base has formed into these fast flowing eddies into pools. There are two entrances, we ended up at the new one through the Complejo Ecoturistico M’ Fanny’s, a restaurant gardens area. In all, it was quite fantastic. We could have ridden the entire 60 km to Puyo, but the road was beginning to up slope more and we were exhausted from riding and hiking as is. A bus picked us up at Rio San Francisco. Even if we were not so tired, we really would not have been able to ride back very well. There is a constant run of tunnels wide enough for a single vehicle with a pedestrian pathway built around the side only going towards Puyo and not the return way. After returning to Baños, we rode around a little with the bikes before returning them. I personally was exhausted after this and merely stayed in to finish my book and update the last week in my journal.

Today we are taking a break from physical activity, mostly because there is a consistent shower every hour or so. The day is not lost, though, because I found a book exchange cafe that shows free movies in the afternoon. 🙂 Tomorrow were are going to the zoo and then a hike up the mountain to the opposite side of Baños and then to a hot springs. We also hope to get up to El Refugio. There might even be time for a quick half day white water rafting trip. Baños is truly a great place to be right now. We are still making our way north and west to the coast, but we will be stopping in Puyo first. Puyo is just inside the Amazon region east of Baños. I am excited!

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